In 1941, no one had more to
lose than Britain. Although the United States was supporting
England's efforts "behind the scenes", England was facing
Hitler and the Nazi threat alone. Therefore, it is not
surprising that the "sense of urgency" lacking in the United
States would have to come across the Atlantic from England.
It appeared by 1941 that
the British, at least, knew where they were going. Although
Henry Tizard was skeptical himself, others felt that the development
of a nuclear weapon could "win the war."
Consequently, it was Mark
Oliphant who finally goaded the American program over the top.
Oliphant flew to the United States in late August in an unheated
bomber to ostensibly consult about the radar program but was actually
charged with inquiring why the United States was ignoring the MAUD
Committee's findings. Oliphant stated the following: "The
minutes and reports had been sent to Lyman Briggs (Director of the
Uranium Committee) and we were puzzled to receive virtually no
comment. I called on Briggs in Washington, only to find out that
this inarticulate and unimpressive man had put the reports in his safe
and had not shown them to members of his committee. I was amazed
Oliphant then met with the
Uranium Committee. Samuel K. Allison was a new committee member,
a talented experimentalist and a protege of Arthur Compton at the
University of Chicago. Oliphant "came to a meeting,"
Allison recalls, "and said 'bomb' in no uncertain terms. He
told us we must concentrate every effort on the bomb and said we had
no right to work on power plants or anything but the bomb. The
bomb would cost 25 million dollars, he said, and Britain didn't have
the money or the manpower, so it was up to us." Allison was
surprised that Briggs had kept the committee in the dark.
To further champion his
cause, Oliphant contacted Ernest Lawrence at Berkeley. After
visiting with Lawrence and receiving his support, Oliphant visited
with both Conant and Bush and then went to see Fermi before returning
to Birmingham, England.
Oliphant's heroic efforts
are generally felt to be the "catalyst" that finally pushed
the American bomb effort over the top.